Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Getting a Handy

No, it's not what you're thinking.

The German word for cell phone is Handy, and getting them was - like most things seem to be in this country - more complicated than it appeared. We couldn't use our credit cards to buy monthly service, we had to first have a German bank account. Setting up a bank account in most cases requires going in person, which requires an appointment. We've read stories of Americans being required by German banks to provide proof of income or extremely high minimum balances, but in our case the Deutsche Bank representative asked for our passports and proof of residence (a registration certificate from the B├╝rgeramt - the local authorities). Then, you have to wait about a week for all of your different documents to come from the bank in the post - endless pin numbers and access codes and more. Finally, with everything in hand, we were able to order our phone service.

Fortunately we didn't need to buy new phones. We simply ordered new SIM cards, and then we unlocked our AT&T iPhones so that they could accept the new cards from a different provider. This is a relatively easy process if you're out-of-contract with AT&T. You submit an online request to AT&T and within a few days they confirm with you by email that your device is unlocked, as long as you meet their requirements.

We signed up for service from O2, one of the larger providers here. We also looked at T-Mobile or Telekom or whatever it's actually called here (it's a German company, the US version is a subsidiary), and Vodafone, as well as some smaller cheap-o companies. But O2 had the best deal for month-to-month service with sufficient data and EU-roaming packages, coming in under 40 euros each. Of course, signing a one-year contract would be cheaper, but since we felt clueless, we didn't want to commit that long right away to one company, and the difference wasn't that great, and still a better deal than what we were getting back in the States.

Is that DPD? No. Wait, is THAT DPD? No. Oh, SIM cards, where art thou?
Now, all we had to do was sit back and wait for the SIM cards to come in the mail. After two days (all the while tracking the package about a million times each day) the website listed that the SIM cards were "out for delivery". A bit later a DPD mailman comes to our door and delivers a package. Hurray! Wait... that's not addressed to us. Oh, and it's not from O2. Sigh. So, we go to the computer and check it again, and now it listed that they had attempted to deliver the package but had not been successful due to an incorrect address. We were flabbergasted. Both sets of names were on the mailbox. Ugh. We first contacted DPD, explained the situation, and gave detailed instructions to eliminate the possibility of another failed attempt. We waited another few days and (again after tracking the package obsessively) we saw the status: "delivered". Hmm. We had been home all day. Nothing. Checked the mailbox. Nothing. Arg. Again we called DPD, and after some explaining the situation through the language barrier, we were informed that they had not sent it back to our flat, but instead had sent it back to the warehouse, and that we needed to contact O2 to get it resent. Seriously? Now we get O2 on the phone, again more explaining, again giving detailed instructions for the delivery service. Two days later, BAM!, here's DHL at our door with our package! Woohoo! Points scored for DHL.

Once we had them, we backed up our phones and switched the SIM cards. Aside from the embarrassingly long amount of time we wasted struggling with fitting the mother******* nano SIM cards from O2 into the micro SIM adapter for the iPhone, it was very easy to activate the new cards and start texting and calling other German numbers! It felt very liberating. We now can use google maps and facebook outside of wifi without fear of massive charges.

Next is transferring our US numbers to Google Voice and quitting AT&T........

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